How to run a Speaking event

Aim Small

iszi lawrence comedy UCL

It is much better to have people disappointed they missed out on a ticket than have a half empty room. Empty rooms feel empty. They make the audience question why they are there. It feels awkward and they are less likely to return. But imagine a packed event, an electric atmosphere, a feeling of exclusivity and excitement. People are going to make sure they get tickets so they won’t miss out next time and disappointed attendees will be more likely to buy early bird tickets for your next event.

Go All in

If your friends don’t know all about your event, if you family isn’t sick of hearing about it, if you haven’t emailed everyone on your list multiple times: you are not doing enough to promote it.

A thing I’ve noticed on the comedy circuit is that people don’t like to show they are trying hard. While this is wise onstage, a needy comedian is never a funny one, offstage this laissez faire attitude backfires.

iszi lawrence british humanist

You don’t have to plead with people to come but you do need to let them know it is happening and how fun you think it will be. I have missed out on events I would love to have attended because I simply wasn’t aware they were happening.

think a lot of us have the little voice in our heads going:

‘If I don’t tell anyone about it, then I won’t be embarrassed if it fails’.

This is exactly why events DO fail. You have to go all in. Let yourself make the mistakes and everyone needs to witness you making them. You cannot sell tickets to something you don’t want to talk about, just incase it goes wrong. Not talking about it is a sure fire way of it going wrong.

Sell your tickets in advance. 

If you are hosting an industry event this is much easier to do. Use social media to ask the advice of your potential attendees. Who do they really want to hear speak? What location could they most likely to travel to? What times would suit them? 

The ideal scenario

  • Put word out that you are hosting an event several months in advance.

  • Use a facebook group and social media to gather emails and interest. 

  • Book at least one speaker. 

  • Find two or three venues in the same city available to host the event which offer different capacities. 

  • Put Early Bird tickets on sale with only one or two of the speakers you have booked. See how fast they sell.

  • If they sell fast, up the price, pay the deposit for the larger room and find more speakers (use your audience to find out who their dream speakers might be). 

  • OR if sales don’t take off, book the smaller room, hold off booking more speakers and try and generate more interest in your event.

Work out a budget and stick to it. Don’t lose money on an event if you can help it, even if you aren’t looking at making a profit. You can always donate the proceeds or put them forward to your next event.

Keep selling to the people who have already bought a ticket - let them know if you have booked more speakers, get them to vote on the contents of goody bags or find out their food preferences if you are catering. Keep them excited. You are going to need the atmosphere to feel electric. Also people who are already keen to come along probably know other people who would love to go along too. They might be persuaded to invite others -especially if they can do so at discount or get an ‘extra’ as reward.

You need to keep selling how great the event is at the event itself. Encourage people to ask questions through social media. Offer discounts to those willing to buy tickets to the next event at this event. Collect emails, network and do as much as you can to get to know your audience. 


Encourage your speakers to use social media and their email lists to promote your event.

The amount of times a promoter has asked me to tweet or share an event without bothering to send ME a link to share or tell me who else was on, is ridiculous. Make it easy for Speakers to retweet - i.e. if you are writing a tweet about me appearing at your Museum Late, include @iszi_lawrence in the tweet, plus relevant hashtags. That way I’ll be sure to retweet and share it.

Speakers do a LOT of events and it isn’t up to us to sell your tickets - particularly if we are on a flat fee rather than a door split fee. We want to perform at sold out events - so make helping you as simple and as easy for us as possible. 

If you are holding an event where your speakers are authors, or have items to sell, promote those before your event. If people like the book, they are more likely to like the speaker and the speaker will appreciate the support and interest you have shown in them.

Approach local businesses, social clubs (or whoever your audience are) and offer discounts to larger group bookings. Use office pinboards. Go into local businesses and ask the desk to put up a flyer in the kitchen.

If your event is a comedy night or book launch- use posters in the venue (the best place is women’s bathroom stalls. We sit and look at a door - anything to read is a bonus).

Don’t forget old fashioned media. Write press releases, make sure you are listed in the local paper, TimeOut and local radio. Equally make sure you get coverage in Industry Magazines and company newsletters.

Approach sponsors

They can turn up the value for the audience by providing the funds for a nicer sound system, recording of the event, promotional materials and even networking to get the speakers you want. If they say no, you haven’t lost anything. If you are determined to work with them in future, offer them some tickets anyway, get them interested and tell them how the event went afterwards. Stay in touch, it could be that you approached at the wrong time, and they would love to work with you on a different project. 


Attend similar events. See how they do it, see what you would do differently.